Fretwell, Betsy Interview, 2016 August 30. OH-02814. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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i AN INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH N. "BETSY" FRETWELL An Oral History Conducted by Stefani Evans and Claytee D. White The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ©The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2016 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Editor: Stefani Evans Transcribers: Kristin Hicks, Frances Smith Interviewers: Stefani Evans and Claytee D. White Project Manager: Stefani Evans iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of the UNLV University Libraries. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea and the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Building Las Vegas Oral History Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas iv PREFACE "No matter who you are, you've got to be able to explain to the people who have the ultimate decision-making authority what they're getting into. If you can't tell them both sides, then they're voting in the dark." Shortly before the University of Georgia granted Betsy Fretwell Master's degree in public administration in 1991, she applied for a one-year internship with Clark County, Nevada. The County hired her, but Fretwell did not complete her internship. Instead, the County promoted her, hired her full-time, and soon had her lobbying for the County's interests in Carson City. Her insistence on learning all sides of a question and communicating that knowledge to the decision makers was one of the skills that made her so valuable to Clark County administrators. In this interview, Fretwell discusses her South Carolina childhood, her affinity for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, and the path she took to occupy the office of city manager for the City of Las Vegas. She talks about her years at Clark County and a term at the City of Henderson, but v she mostly focuses on her sixteen years at the City of Las Vegas, first as assistant city manager under Virginia Valentine and later as city manager. She discusses City-County intergovernmental relationships, and the administration of Mayor Oscar Goodman relative to the UNLV Medical School, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, and professional sports. She shares her excitement over the possibilities for the renaissance of downtown Las Vegas, the Westside, and the Arts District. The South Carolina transplant found home in Southern Nevada even as she helped shape the Southern Nevada we know. But she's no stranger back home; every time she appears in the newspaper here, her father wants a copy so he can show it to his buddies at the coffee shop. [Shortly after this interview, Fretwell left the City of Las Vegas to become Senior Vice President of Switch SMART.] vi TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Elizabeth N. "Betsy" Fretwell August 30, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by Stefani Evans and Claytee D. White Preface…………………………………………………………………………………..………..iv Childhood in South Carolina, University of Georgia, undergraduate degree political science, graduate degree public administration 1991. To Clark County for internship 1991, hired full time, lobbying for County. To City of Henderson intergovernmental relations director and lobbyist for Nevada State College; 2000 to City of Las Vegas assistant city manager. Experience as intern and public-sector lobbyist; systems approach, relationships, and lobbying; City of Las Vegas and Clark County intergovernmental relationships………………………………………..……………. 1–11 Career goals, City of Las Vegas, and knowing all sides of an argument. Pros and cons of City-County consolidation; Oscar Goodman and UNLV Medical School, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, and professional sports. Las Vegas city manager 2009, the Great Recession, and funding for The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the City Hall building, and the Mob Museum. Employment for the building trades……..………………………………………. 11–21 Tony Hseih, Cordish Companies, Zappos, and Symphony Park; Downtown regeneration, restaurants, the Fremont Street Experience, Derek Stevens, and new residential units to increase downtown population; the Westside, the Westside School, the downtown cultural corridor, the Arts District, and downtown traffic improvements……………………………..…..………. 21–33 vii 1 This is Stefani Evans and Claytee White. Today is August 30th, [2016,] and we are in the amazing office of Betsy Fretwell at the City of Las Vegas. Betsy, would you please pronounce and spell your first and last name for us, please? Sure. So I'm Betsy Fretwell. My official name is Elizabeth N. Fretwell. B-E-T-S-Y, F-R-E-T-W-E-L-L. Elizabeth, E-L-I-Z-A-B-E-T-H. Thank you. And Betsy, can you just begin by telling us where you're from, tell us about your early life, where you were born, what your parents did for a living, siblings? Well, I was born in South Carolina, upstate. My father was from Anderson, which is my hometown. Long family history in that little burgh. He and my mom met at the University of South Carolina and got married and then had me. I'm the oldest of three children. My dad has been a Realtor of all sorts—residential, commercial, and developer—he's been involved in a lot of different kinds of projects. My mom has a background in finance and has been a bookkeeper, has worked in human resources, and currently owns a children's consignment retail shop that is going gangbusters. So they're great. I love them. My brother still lives in Anderson, literally a stone's throw away from my father. He's married and has a beautiful wife and two sons. My sister lives not far from my mother, in Greenville, and she has three children, two are in college this year, and her husband's an attorney there in Greenville. The little one, who is six is a late addition to the family and is the light of my sister's life right now. He just loves her and she loves him. So they're not quite empty nesters because the two are at college. So that's good. So that's kind of that little story. CLAYTEE: So where did you go to school? I went to the University of Georgia. I had a great time there. That is a fun college. I'm a Bulldog 2 through and through, just so you know. There are a lot of similarities in my personality with that mascot, too, let me tell you. People do not hesitate to remind me here at City Hall about that sometimes. Anyway, yes, so I struck off and went to the University of Georgia. The funny thing about that is that was really getting away, because everybody went to South Carolina, or they went to Clemson, or they went to Presbyterian College, or right around where we grew up. The funny thing about that is Athens [Georgia] is actually closer than most of those other places to where I grew up, but it felt like a world away because it was in Georgia. And so I was lucky. I got an athletic scholarship, actually, to the University of Georgia. I really thought I was going to go into medicine. So throughout my high school career, I had worked as an athletic trainer with all of the sports at my high school. I believe I was the first and maybe only person to go to the University of Georgia on an athletic scholarship to be an athletic trainer. So it was awesome because it helped me pay my way through college. So I did my four years at the University of Georgia, was a part of the athletic department the entire time I was there. I went back and forth about whether or not to stick with medicine. I made the mistake—I say that kind of jokingly—of taking a political science course and falling in love with it. It was way more interesting than my current major of chemistry. Even though I was pretty good at chemistry, I was like, this stuff is intriguing. So I called my father. Oh, Lord. I called my father and I said, "Dad, I'm changing my major." And he lost it. He blew his stack. He was so mad at me. "What are you talking about?" I said, "Well, I love this political science thing, and I really want to do that." And he said, "Are you kidding me? I majored in history. What kind of job are you going to get?" So I did it anyway, because I'm pretty stubborn and I do my own thing, which my parents 3 have come to appreciate and probably still wonder about occasionally. Not very compliant as a kid. So I switched my major; still took all these sciences as electives because I just loved science and math and stuff like that that I didn't really need and finished up. And then I couldn't decide what I really wanted to do. So I had an undergrad in PoliSci with a minor in history. See, Stefani, see—similar ilk right here. Anyway, so that was pretty cool, and then I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't know if I wanted to go to law school. I didn't know if I still wanted to try and pursue medical school, what I really wanted to do. I talked to one of the graduate advisers in the political science department and he said, "Maybe you should think about going into public administration." I said, "Well, tell me a little bit about public administration." He said, "Well, we train people to run governments, federal governments, state governments, local governments. You could go on and get a law degree, but if you want to be in administration or you want to be an elected official or whatever, this is really a good training ground for you because you'll know how governments really work." Et cetera. I was like, that's interesting, because it reminded me of this Government for a Day thing. I was very active in high school. So I was student body president and all this other stuff. We had done Government for a Day when I was seventeen, when I was a senior in high school. We were all gathered up at the Greenville City Hall. We all had to draw names out of the hat. It was all the student body presidents from all the high schools in Greenville. So we were going to play a role that day. So everybody is like, "I want to be mayor; I want to be the fire chief; I want to be the police chief." I reached in there and pulled it out, the city manager. I was like, wow, what does a city manager do? I have no idea what a city manager does. And the [Greenville] city manager wasn't there that day, so somebody took me under their wing. I sat at his desk all 4 day. I had to put together a budget and an agenda and all this stuff. I realized what a critical role city manager plays in a city. You're the in-between, between the elected officials who ultimately make a decision, but you're also the one that all the staff has to work through to get to the elected officials to make that decision. I thought, this is a really cool job. I had no idea. So fast forward back to when I'm leaving college or trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life after college. I had decided not to take a job that I had been offered in the private sector and stay in school. So I took my GREs or whatever I had to do. I got a graduate assistanceship in the athletic department, so I was able to pay for my graduate school doing that. And your father was okay with all of this? Well, by then, yes, he was on to bigger and better. He knew there was no influencing me at that time, and I think he had given up. He was glad I was still there. Y'all wait till I start moving out to Vegas. You should hear that conversation. Oh. Okay, good. So anyway, I did my graduate studies in public administration, a little bit of a contrarian. I also took a lot of classes in the Master's in Business Administration program because I felt like I needed to know the business side of things more than what I was getting in the program. So I took classes there and in the public administration program, which I thought was good. Then I graduated. There were no jobs to be had in '91, none. Oh, my Lord. So I had moved to Atlanta for a minute, lived with my college roommate's parents while looking for a job. I had applied for an internship with Clark County, Nevada before I graduated. How did that happen? Well, a little funny story. So it was a little dog-eat-dog getting a job, right? Because there were 5 no jobs. I was out with some friends from my program, who I still love today, but they were talking really quietly at a bar and they were like, "There's a job in Las Vegas; it's an internship. Don't tell anybody. Let's apply." So I heard them and I'm like, well, I'm going to apply. So I called the City of Las Vegas and they're like, "We don't have an internship program, but Clark County does. So here's their phone number." So I called. I got the application. I applied. And I heard nothing. I thought, oh, another failed job application, because it was so hard to find a job then. So I moved to Atlanta and I get a letter that had had to be forwarded from my Athens address. So the day I get the letter was the day I was supposed to call Clark County to accept an interview. I mean, like we're talking the only difference in me making that interview was the time delay. You see what I mean? Right. Three hours. Three hours made all the difference. So I was calling them at almost five o'clock Vegas time, Pacific time. So I accepted the interview, cobbled together enough money to get an airplane ticket, flew out here, did the interview. I interviewed with Kirby Burgess, Dave Parks, and Karen was Larsen, now Duddlesten. Those were my three interviewers. Before I got back—I was staying at the Four Queens, I think—before I got back to the Four Queens to my room, my phone was ringing and they were offering me the job. So I was like, "Uh..." I think they were kind of surprised. I said, "Uh, I need to think about it." They're like, "Really?" Who turns down a job at Clark County, right? So I said, "I just need to think about it for a minute. Can I call y'all back in the morning and let you know?" And so I called my mother and she said, "Do it." She's like, "You don't have any obligations. You're not married. You don't have children. It's a time in your life when you can do 6 it. Try something different. Do it." I love your mother. I know. She's awesome. Dad? Then I got home—I got accepted. Then I got home. My dad was really not pleased because he didn't want me to leave. He got out my brother's atlas with this compass and he took that point of that compass and he stuck it down in Anderson, South Carolina, and drew a radius around it and said, "Within one year you will be in the radius." So I was like, "All right, we'll see." So I really didn't think I'd be out here that long. It was a one-year internship. But within six or seven months I had been promoted to a permanent job. The rest is history, sort of. I mean, I made a lot of progress at Clark County and learned to be a state lobbyist for the County. I did that for a few sessions, was ultimately responsible for leading the County's efforts on some of the lobbying in '97. Then I got lured over to the City of Henderson to start up a new department for them as their first intergovernmental relations director. Lobbied for them to try and help get the Nevada State College established. Richard Perkins was the speaker at the time. So I worked with him a lot on that and Mayor Gibson. Then [City of Las Vegas manager] Virginia Valentine called me and said, "I really need an assistant. I need an assistant, Betsy. Would you be interested?" So two years later, in 2000, I said bye to Henderson and came to the City [of Las Vegas] in what was basically a lateral kind of move. It wasn't like a promotion, although it's a much bigger city. Worked for Virginia for a couple of years. I want to go back to the beginning. Yes, ma'am. As an intern what kind of work did you do that allowed you to become a lobbyist so rapidly? 7 I was put in charge of the board of county commissioners’ agenda. And so I had to read every single agenda item and all of the backup. And every two weeks I'd go in and I would brief the county manager, the deputy county managers and some key department heads on what was coming up on the agenda. But you were, what, twenty-two? Yes, twenty-four. I was twenty-four. And you started in '91? Yes, yes. It was an incredible experience and I also had a real penchant for improving processes. So at that time that board agenda process was completely manual. Nothing was done on computers. We were lucky that we had [IBM] Selectric typewriters that had Whiteout eraser things built in, like that was a miracle. So any mistake caused the whole thing to have to be done over. So making sure these things were right was critical. That was a critical function. So anyway, yes, I got a lot of exposure to county management. I got a lot of exposure to all of the things that the board was dealing with. I sat through every board of county commissioner meeting because the agenda was my job. And then they had me start reading legislative bills in '93. And so I did a lot of legislation review, helping develop the mission statements that then would be transmitted to the lobbyists, et cetera, et cetera. Then in '95 we were in a huge fight with the City. About? Consolidation mainly, and a bunch of other things—annexation, consolidation—a lot of the stuff that's still being discussed today. But I was immensely familiar with all of the bills and the County had a lot of them. I want to say we had two hundred bills. It was an enormous number of bills we had, and I knew a lot of them. The lobbying team that had been sent up there really 8 needed help. So Pat Shalmy, who was the manager at the time, said, "Let's send Betsy up there and have her testify on these bills because she knows what they're about. Let's have her go do it." So I got thrown in part way into the '95 session as a lobbyist. I went up and back every week. I stayed in a hotel for six or seven months. I got great exposure. John Lee still laughs. He says, "Betsy, I remember you walking around that legislature. You had that briefcase and you had all these folders coming out of there and you're like weighed down." And I was. I mean, I had all that material. I would just carry it all around. And you were a kid. Kind of, yes. I was pretty young, yes. But people appreciated what I had to share with them. Being a public-sector lobbyist is a little bit different because the only thing you have to pedal is the truth, the facts and that kind of stuff. You're not involved in political campaigns. You're not involved in special interest groups. You're not involved in that stuff. You're impacted by it, but you're not involved in it. And so you can kind of bring a little different perspective to the issues at hand. And I made it my business to be able to argue the other guy's position as well as my own. I just want to know how you developed that level of intellect so quickly and the communication style. I just want to know how it came to you to do what you were doing and to do it at that level so quickly. If you were eighteen, talking to a class right now at UNLV, what would you say? What would you tell them to do? Well, I would tell them that you've really got to learn to use your brain. You have to apply all of these skills and knowledge. You've got to think beyond what you're assigned. You really have to think about all the other stuff associated with it; to be able to relate one thing to another that might seem unrelated at first glance, but could have an impact on the other. I was able to learn a 9 lot of that working on the commission agenda and watching how certain items were actually interrelated, but they were totally separate actions. If you did one, but you didn't do the other, then it sort of undermined you. So I could see that systems approach. The legislature was the same thing. Completely unrelated things would get used to get something else done. And so you kind of have to be able to see that and you've got to be able to develop the relationships with people to be able to determine what's important, who can help you, how can you help them, are there certain kind of public good things that only the public sector can bring to the conversation and how do you play that role? It was an intriguing time because I made incredible relationships. I mean, I remember coming back from that first session and Mr. Shalmy came and sat in my office. Pat came and sat in my office. It was like the buzz in the office. They were like [whispering], "Oh my god, I can't believe the county manager came in your office, Betsy." I said [whispering], "I know, I know." Anyway, because you just do your job and you're just trying to do it well and you don't really think about that might have an impact on the powers that be of the day. He said, "I just want you to know something, Betsy." And I said, "What's that?" He said, "Richard Bunker called me." And I said, "Richard Bunker?" And he said, "Yes, Richard Bunker." He said, "Richard Bunker said really great things about you and I just think you should know that." And tell me who he is. Well, Richard Bunker actually was on the Clark County Commission, but he was also a very powerful lobbyist and he lobbied for the Water Authority. He was a very influential public policy maker in our state for decades. Anyway, so it was very flattering. I don't know why that one stuck out, but that one did, maybe because Pat made his way to my office to tell me that this very important person to him and to the County had shared that. So that was kind of cool. But 10 anyway, so I had a lot of opportunities to help craft strategy. One of the other things that I worked on...I forgot to mention when I was—I call it a baby analyst—when I was a baby analyst at the County, I worked on the City-County consolidation study that happened in '93. So I became very familiar with all the operations of every department both at the City and at the County. So I was the analyst from the County that was assigned to Ernst & Young, who did the study. There was only one person assigned; it was me. It was my job to get all this information to the consultants, help put together the information that would then be used in the final report and keep the County manager briefed, keep the department heads informed, and shepherd all this work around. So that gave me great exposure, too, to intergovernmental relationships, which was not healthy at that time, and it gave me really good exposure to all the operational issues. We did staffing analysis and we did budget analysis and we did scope evaluations, a lot of which turned into things like the Regional Justice Center consolidation and having Muni Court with Justice Court with District Court to try and improve efficiencies of operations between organizations. So that was another big project. I mean, this town was just blowing and going, though. It was like if you worked hard and you were smart, you got chances like that, chances like I got. I try now as city manager to give people in this organization chances like that, because that's how you build leaders in people who are willing to do significant jobs in the organization with or without the title. You know what I mean? They're impactful jobs regardless of title. So why would you leave the County and go to Henderson? Well, it was an opportunity to move up. I felt like I was an important player at the County and it was hard for me to leave. I felt like I had a lot of future there had I stayed, but I wasn't sure that I 11 would ever be able to get ahead of some of the other people that were about two years older than me. There is a bit of a seniority kind of thing that happens in any organization, and I just wasn't sure I was ever going to get . . . I couldn't see a path. From day one I had decided I wanted to be a city or a county manager; I said it loudly that that was my career goal, and that I wanted to achieve that within fifteen years, which prompted some chuckling amongst some people and which only emboldened me. Bulldog. Yes. So I felt like in order for me to move up I had to leave. It was a great opportunity to go work with Phil Speight, Terry Zerkle, and Mayor Gibson and Shauna Hughes and Bonnie Rinaldi and some incredible people that have made a lasting impact on this community; it gave me a chance to see a medium-size city in action, which made me love cities. I mean, I loved the County. I loved doing the County stuff. I liked the fact that the County actually engaged in policy discussions in addition to land use. Land use was the predominant issue of the day—land use and infrastructure—because we're growing so fast. But they also would weigh in on some other major public policy discussions, which I really enjoyed. So Henderson gave me a real bird's eye view into a fast-growing suburban city that strived for its independence and was proudly independent, which was fun. It was fun working there for a while. Then when Virginia called me, I thought about it. I was like, I could stay at Henderson. It was a little more slow-paced than what I was used to at the County. The County is very fast paced and Henderson was a lot more steady. I knew the City was trying to do things. I had a lot of respect for Virginia. When she called me and said, "I really would like to have you on my team," there was no way to say no. So I took the plunge and I came over to help her and try to be 12 a part of the executive team. It was a great move. So you came back in what year? I came to City of Las Vegas in 2000. So what is your father saying about this time? Oh, he's so proud, oh, my Lord. Are you kidding me? Any time there's an article in the paper, he's like, "Send it to me; I want to show it." He shows it at the coffee shop. Oh, good Lord, all those men he hangs around with, when I walk in when I go visit, they're like, "Hey, we just read this thing about your . . . Your dad told us." He's proud. Still waiting for you to come home? Still waiting for me to come home. Still waiting for me to come home, but is glad I'm here and that it's worked out. I'd like to ask a couple of things. You talked about when you were lobbying you made it your business to be able to argue the other point of view as well. Yes. Tell us why you did that and how that benefitted you. Every legislator wants to know who's going to not agree and why before they have to make a vote. If you could successfully argue the other side's point and yours was more compelling, you could get the vote. Give me an example. Oh, who knows? I remember talking—you'll laugh at this, Claytee. I remember testifying at some hearing and Barbara Buckley was there; I remember that. It was an affordable housing bill or something, I think. She wanted me to testify. She said, "I really want you to testify." I said, "All right." So I basically ran in. I don't know what else was going on, but I ran into the 13 committee room and Randolph Townsend calls me up to testify. He was great, by the way. He was a [Nevada State] senator and he's now on the [Nevada] Gaming Commission, I think. Anyway, a great guy. I learned a lot from him. Anyway, I'm testifying. I'm testifying, testifying, testifying. Randolph, he picks up a Kleenex and starts waving it. He's like, "I surrender. Stop." I was like, oh, my gosh. No drama. That nearly killed me. I wasn't done. Let me tell you, I was not done and he knew it. If I could walk in and I could say in a compelling way that this is why the County needed something and this is why they needed it over the opposition of whoever it may have been—like we testified one year to try and add cultural affairs to the list of things that the County could do. The County is in a unique situation. They don't have a charter. So they're only allowed to do—well, they were at that time—only allowed to do what is expressly given to them as a right to do in the state legislature. And they wanted to start a cultural affairs program. Well, part of being a modern city usually incorporates art and they were precluded from doing that. Meanwhile, the City of Las Vegas has this incredible arts program—performing arts, visual art, a whole host of things going on. And the County couldn't even start a department. They kind of hide it in the parks department. So I went up there and testified for that. I had to be able to say, "Well, there's a reason why the County should be doing this in addition to the City because the City can't provide these services in the unincorporated County." Where most people live. Right, where a lot of people lived. So there were things like that that were important that you had to be able to explain to people, who were like, "Why don't you just let the City do that?" Well, we're not structured where the City can just go do that. "Well, why should the County be in that 14 business at all? Aren't they just a county?" Well, no, not really, not when the lion's share of the citizens don't live in a city—in the City, anyway. This is something that's really important to the residents of Clark County. That's probably not the best example. That's a very good one. Generally you have to be able to—no matter who you are, you've got to be able to explain to the people who have the ultimate decision-making authority what they're getting into. If you can't tell them both sides, then they're voting in the dark; that's not right, either, because at the end of the day they've got to have enough information to make a good decision. You may not agree with their decision. But if you can arm them with the information, then at least you know they're making an informed decision, and that was always my goal. And they can at least defend their decision. Yes. They're armed one way or another. If we made a compelling argument that was great; if I didn't then... So now that you're on the City side, how do the different entities view consolidation because that discussion is still going on? Well, the City is a little bit different. Cities are fun. Cities are really fun. This one is small enough that you can get a lot done in a little bit of time. So there is something to be said for being right-size, being the right size to be able to get things done in a responsive and a responsible way, I should say. When you get really big, it's not that it's unmanageable, but it is a totally different management style. I have twenty department heads here. I know all of them. I know their spouses' names. A lot of times I know their children. When you look at even something the size of the County, which is much bigger than we are, you've got forty-something [departments], and then you've got all those judges. I mean, it's just enormous, and it's a different 15 management style that's required, I think, for a position like mine. I think if you tried to shove everything together [as in consolidation], you lose a little bit. You're going to lose some competitiveness between the organizations, which I think keeps us fresh. You also can lose things to, as Bob Beers said a couple of weeks ago, diseconomies of scale. However, you can get some real benefits through coordination, on service delivery, elimination of redundancies, but it would not be easy. It would be a very hard lift. And it would not be cheap. I think a lot of people go into consolidation because they say, "Oh, we can make government cheaper." I don't agree with that. You might make government more effective and you may reduce duplication and you may be able to limit how fast a government grows, but it's not cheap to do it to start with, and the savings, if you're going to see them, are going to be long-term and invisible because they get absorbed into a lesser growth rate. I wouldn't say go into consolidation if you're going to try and save money. Go into consolidation because you want higher coordination; you want a different government style; you want one fire department and one library district and one water district; you want those ones instead of multiple ones. Looking at the two entities, the City and the County, and assuming that they're going to stay